The acquisition of Michigan transfer Thomas Rawls last season gave Central Michigan the thousand-yard rusher that they had missed in the previous season. However, with Rawls trying to make it in the NFL, John Bonamego and staff have quite a task on their hands trying to decide on a starting running back for the season.
Thomas Rawls filled the void left by Zurlon Tipton very nicely, rushing for 1,103 yards, despite missing basically six games due to suspension and injury. During his absence, the Chips were very fortunate to have a contributing true freshman in Devon Spalding (73 att., 371 yards, 5.1 avg., 4 TD's). Other contributors included Saylor Lavalli and Martez Walker. Despite rushing for 807 yards in 2013, Lavalli (84 att., 298 yards, 3.5 avg., 4 TD's) not able to continue this production, rushing for less than half of his '13 amount. Martez Walker (62 att., 265 yards, 4.3 avg., 1 TD) saw the least amount of carries between the three of them. Also, the losses of Anthony Garland and Maurice Shoemaker-Gilmore will hurt the running back situation. Anthony Garland contributed mostly with his blocking, while also showing a solid ability to rush the football. Maurice Shoemaker-Gilmore saw a dramatic decrease in playing time last season, due to major fumbling issues. However, he was a speedy running back for the Chippewas, who was always a big-play threat.
One can look at Central Michigan's running back situation in two possible ways:
- A chance for a young, unproven back to break out and show the MAC what he's made of.
- A group of inexperienced players will serve as place-holders until the next great Chippewa running back comes in.
The former choice is how I like to look at this running back situation. Out of the three returning backs, Devon Spalding looks to be the favorite to start the season as the first-string running back. After a productive rookie year, he is now more acclimated to the speed in the college game, and can only go up from here.
He is an exciting player with great size and speed for the position. Should he win the starting job, Spalding could develop into Central Michigan's running back of the future for the next three years.
Saylor Lavalli will be a senior in the fall, and he is the most experienced of the group. However, he hasn't been able to solidify his role as a starting running back in the offense. He thrives in a specialist role of sorts. And, as the heaviest of running backs, Lavalli can provide the necessary power running game when called upon.
Junior running back Martez Walker is the team's little, shifty back at 5-foot-8. He will look to add to the team's running game as a speedy, transitional back, possibly catching passes out of the backfield.
This year's recruiting class consists of two capable running backs in Romello Ross and Bobby Banks. Ross (check out his highlights here) is a 5-foot-10, 185 pound running back out of Detroit Western. He was a four-year starter, and won first-team All-PSL (Detroit's public school league) honors each year. He could have a chance to share some carries with the other backs. The off-season will be big for him to adjust to the college game, in order to see the field more.
Banks is a 5-foot-11, 186 pound back out of Southfield Christian High School, also in Michigan. He seems to be more of a bruising back than Ross, but Banks can also showcase some speed. These two backs will have a chance to contribute right off the bat as freshman, with the running back situation in a flux.
Here is Banks' highlights, courtesy of Hudl:
However, don't expect the running game to work flawlessly right away. Each of the candidates have their own weaknesses. Devon Spalding has all the potential in the world, but his lack of experience can affect his ability to perform. Saylor Lavalli has been easy to stop, as his product is already well-known. Lastly, Martez Walker has been unable to come through with consistent play for the Chips.
The opportunities for this new running back crop are endless, and we will have to see for ourselves how these backs will mesh in Coach Bonamego's offense. Spalding will most likely win the starting job by the fall, with Lavalli and Walker behind him in that order, and the tandem of incoming freshman behind them. The development of this group of backs should be interesting to follow throughout the season.